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Bishop's Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 6, 2022

[Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University of Honolulu]

The teenaged son of my best friend noticed that one of his classmates was depressed, and he found out that his classmate had a very difficult family situation and sometimes felt like ending it all.  This young man invited his classmate to hang out with his family, sharing meals, hikes, playing cards and watching TV.  The influence of this family that was not perfect but was obviously very loving made a huge difference in the life of that classmate.  My young friend was a good fisherman.

When I was a pastor in Oakland, I was at the gym one day, and a man approached me and asked if I was the pastor of the church with the daily soup kitchen.  I said I was, and he went on to tell me how that soup kitchen saved his life.  He was despondent and in dire poverty, but they not only filled his belly with nourishing food every day, the staff and volunteers there filled his soul with love and acceptance and gave him the gift of hope, which he had almost lost.  The folks who staffed that soup kitchen were excellent at fishing.

I could spend all day recounting the numbers of people I know who, in one way or another, throw out a line to those who are drowning in poverty, in depression, in grief, in anxiety, or in troubles too numerous to count.  Sometimes their efforts make an immediate impact, and sometimes they have to go back again and again, patiently throwing out the line and waiting hopefully, as good fisherfolk do.  The question is, why do they do this?  What motivates them?

Of course, human beings are just built to care for one another, but sometimes that nobility can be obscured by self-indulgence and sin.  When Isaiah saw this grand vision of the Holy One seated upon his throne, he became aware of his sins, being a man of “unclean lips.”  But God sent an angel to take care of that by a burning encounter that purified him for the mission God had in mind for him.  Simon Peter, when he saw the grand vision of the Holy One who looked just like he and his friends did, he warned Jesus to get away from him because he was a sinful man.  Jesus ignored his warning and instead invited him to follow him and to do another kind of fishing, a kind that would not only fill the stomachs of those who ate but would fill the souls of all in need of love.

I believe all the wonderful people I mentioned, who are so good at reaching out to others, do so not because they are perfect themselves, but because they have had an encounter with Jesus himself, who purifies their lips and their hearts and who calls them to follow him on the great adventure of fishing for people.

It is easy to hope for some grand and glorious vision, some lightning-bolt encounter with God that will turn us around and make us want to say to the Lord, “Here I am.  Send me!”  St. Paul gives us the key to this encounter when he mentions that Jesus is not dead but alive, and accessible to those who open their hearts to him.  The same Jesus who taught the crowds from Simon Peter’s fishing boat two thousand years ago, has just spoken to us in his living Word, the Scriptures we have heard proclaimed.  The very same Jesus who provided for a miraculous catch of nourishing food, will here become food for us, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Eternal Salvation.  No, we may not see Seraphim flying about and singing, but trust me, they are here.  We may not see the Body of Jesus Christ, but blessed are we who have not seen yet still believe.  It is this encounter with the risen Lord Jesus every Sunday – and more often, if we are inclined – that can burn away our sin and selfishness and open us to say “Yes” to the great adventure of fishing for others in this vast sea of the world in which we live.

Peter, Andrew, James and John were professional fisherman.  But they had never seen such an abundant catch as they did on that day on which the carpenter from the land-locked town of Nazareth showed them how to really fish.  Yet, despite the marvelous catch, there were still many fish left in the sea.  In the same way, we rejoice over those who have already been touched by the risen Lord and have begun the great adventure of fishing for people in a thousand different ways.  But there are many who have not yet been caught, who are floundering about aimlessly.  The Lord constantly asks the question, “Whom shall I send?”  If we truly open our eyes to see Jesus present and active among us, how can we say anything else but “Here I am.  Send me.”